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Female alumnae finds roles behind the spotlight

Larshell Green

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Cody Sires and Emery Foster play Claudio and Hero in “Much Ado About Nothing.” Elisabeth Odom and Katy Baronich decided to spin William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” It will run Aug. 28-29 in the Vonnie Borden Theatre. Odom and Baronich discussed their passion for theatre and what they have learned from the craft.
Courtesy of Tara Bennett

After finishing their collegiate careers at the university, two women have returned to make their marks in the Vonnie Borden Theatre by spinning a William Shakespeare classic.

Elisabeth Odom graduated from the university in May 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in general studies with a concentration in theatre. She joined Alpha Psi Omega in 2012 and gained national membership status in 2016. Her most important lesson that she learned from the theatre organization occurred beyond the stage.

“APO taught me many things but, most importantly, to always strive to be the best you can be and seek a life that is useful,” said Odom. “When you try to do and be your best, you will inevitably find yourself alongside others of the same mindset.”

While considering Shakespeare’s thought process when writing “Much Ado About Nothing,” Odom noticed that each character had their own plot. Odom explains how her version of the play will be seen onstage. 

Odom said, “Two young lovers, Claudio and Hero, have plans to be married, but of course not everyone is too happy about this. Meanwhile to pass the time, many of our characters band together to bring Beatrice and Benedick, two witty rivals, into a mountain of affection, the one with the other. Will Claudio and Hero withstand the trials put against their bond? Will Benedick and Beatrice ever concede and marry? Only time will tell.”

Although the content of the play had the potential to be challenging, Odom admits that she found comfort in focusing on the theme of growth during the production. 

“This has been an amazing learning process for me, and going into it, I wanted to focus on growth and discovery for everyone,” said Odom. “Shakespeare can be a little intimidating sometimes, and I wanted to show that he really isn’t all that scary.”

Odom urges audience members to come expecting to have a good time and expects them to be surprised during the play. 

During the beginning stages of production, Odom spoke with APO President Madison Paulus to search for designers and actors capable of fulfilling unique roles. 

“Through the audition process, I was really looking for actors who could communicate well non-verbally,” said Odom. “Shakespeare is not and should not be unapproachable and scary, but his plays can be challenging at times since he writes in a style of English we are not incredibly familiar with these days. I looked for actors who showed me they could take more complicated language and communicate it in a way that was easily understood. You would be amazed at how much intention behind the words matters compared to the words themselves.”

Fellow theatre and APO alumna at the university Katy Baronich joined the organization in 2011 and exited in 2014 after fulfilling a role as vice president. 

Baronich admitted that as the play’s stage manager she hopes that “Much Ado About Nothing” runs as smoothly as possible during its run from Aug. 28-29 at 7:30 p.m. She credits her training in APO for being able to handle her new job. 

“To make the show run smoothly, it takes experience and also being thrown into the lion’s den,” said Baronich. “It takes being calm, but being hard when you need to be. Being organized and keeping everyone on track.”

Media Coordinator for the Hammond Regional Arts Center and APO alumna Tara Bennett is double cast as Ursula and one of the Watch in the production. She shares how her prior knowledge of Shakespeare shows has helped her process of preparation.

“The Shakespeare productions that are painful to watch are products of clichés,” said Bennett. “Whenever a play consists solely of actors saying ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ in period garb, people see it as something that should be in a museum. Audiences don’t embrace Shakespeare because they believe they can’t connect to it. Connecting to my characters was a big part of my preparation for the show. Breaking down the context of my lines, how they help shape the story, really helped bring my character to life, and it was through that I was able to make some very hilarious choices.”

As a performer, Bennett explains how she wants audiences to feel following her performance.

“I don’t want to perform with the audience scratching their heads,” said Bennett. “I want to make my performance to be very accessible so that they enjoy it and have fun because the play really is hilarious. I’m thankful for it being set in contemporary times because we all know people who squabble with their love interest as Beatrice and Benedick in the play.”

Post-graduation, Odom has managed a few shows at the university and hopes to become a university theatre professor following “Much Ado About Nothing.” 

“I hope to see internships, MFA, a lot of self-producing and directing in my future,” said Odom. 

Odom accredits communication and collaboration as being two significant skills that she acquired in APO that has prepared her to direct a play that will pique the interest of audience members. 

“Communication and collaboration between the director, actors, crew and even audience drive theatre,” said Odom. “When you find those individuals who are excited and passionate just like you, you can do wonderful things together. My hope is that someone will be able to say, ‘I did not think I would enjoy Shakespeare, but I did’ by the end of the final curtain call.”

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